Michael Auslin: North Korea's Marshall Plan

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Mr. Auslin is an associate professor of history at Yale University.]

Kim Jong Il's most recent belligerence has engendered a rare moment of unanimity in the U.N. Security Council. But few regional leaders have offered plausible suggestions on how to prepare for, and peacefully precipitate, a post-Kim, unified Korea.

A Korean Marshall Plan might do the trick. Creating a multi-billion dollar stabilization fund could help bring about peaceful regime change, by emboldening the North Korean people. At the very least, the direst consequences of a Kim collapse could be avoided if such a reconstruction plan were ready to be activated immediately after the dictator falls from power.

Such a plan shouldn't presuppose an invasion of the North. Rather, it should be seen as a means of putting nonviolent pressure on Pyongyang. It would show the long-suffering North Korean people that the world stands ready to help rebuild the shattered country if they are willing to rise up and overthrow Kim's dictatorship. To this end, word of the plan needs to be spread among North Korean émigré communities and broadcast widely by the U.S., so that it penetrates into the Stalinist state.

The cost of such a reconstruction exercise would not come cheap. The world would have to commit enough to show the North Korean people the seriousness of its intent -- perhaps $100 billion, or two-and-a-half times North Korea's estimated current annual GDP. But that would be a small price to pay to promote peaceful change. The monies could be supplied by the U.S., Japan and South Korea, the countries arguably most threatened by North Korea's missiles, and with the most to gain from a democratic, unified peninsula.

The fund's usage would be best consigned to South Korea. Koreans -- from the South and, ultimately, the North -- need to control the recovery program because only they can heal the rift on their own peninsula. In its current policy trap, South Korea sees a stalemate with North Korea as the only alternative to a catastrophic Northern implosion that would send millions of refugees spilling across its borders. But empowering South Korea through a multilateral reconstruction plan could give it the confidence needed to push for regime change.

International organizations could also play a large role. To defuse political conflicts over the disbursal of funds, the International Monetary Fund could supervise the distribution of the monies. The U.N. could be brought in as the key technical manager and support provider. The Japanese and South Koreans might be more willing to work under U.N. oversight, given their heavy participation in that organization, and they could well prefer to use existing U.N. agencies (like the United Nations Development Program) rather than trying to create ad hoc agencies for North Korean reconstruction....

One hundred billion dollars is far less expensive than the use of force. With an innovative push for a unified Korea, today's crisis could be the portal for a peaceful and prosperous future for the peninsula and its neighbors.

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